BiNu, the cloud-based service that brings apps and other smartphone-like experiences to feature phones, has followed its $4.1 million Series A round announced in November with news that it has passed 5 million monthly active users worldwide. In conjunction with the milestone, the 2010-founded company is introducing a range of new features, including cloud storage and a Snapchat-clone.
Backed by Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures, 500 Startups and others, Australia-headquartered biNu’s cloud-based platform hosts apps and services — including Facebook, browsers and other services — which can be run through any kind of Web-enabled phone. Now it’s going beyond that to bring (clones of) the Web’s sexy startups to a decidedly unsexy market.
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BiNu’s primary focus is feature phones in the developing world, since it brings new features and possibilities to owners of basic devices and optimizes their use of mobile data.
Since the service is cloud-hosted, biNu is able to introduce new features very easily and, crucially, users don’t need to adjust or update their device to get them. The latest set of new additions includes unlimited Dropbox-like storage, a Snapchat-style ‘Flashchat’ service — cue a joke about sexting — and a push-to-talk feature ‘Voicechat’. The service now also has its own link shortener for sharing content: bi.nu.
“There are billions of people in the world who have never heard of Dropbox or WhatsApp, and it will be years until they have the devices and the networks to use these kinds of services. We are bringing first world services to everyone regardless of where they are or what device they have, skipping the decade-long adoption curve,” says biNu co-founder and CEO Gour Lentell in a statement.
The idea of sophisticated services for feature phones may seem misplaced for some, but today’s basic devices include an Internet connection, camera, music/video player as standard. That makes them ripe for taking their experience to the next level.
Lentell tells TNW that, of the 5 million active users, Africa and Asia “have always been the strongest”, but the company is also charting promising growth in Latin and Central America, and in Mexico in particular.
But biNu is not exclusive to feature phones. Lentell says that the service offers a more efficient and faster experience to all smartphones, particularly those at the low-end of the market.
Interestingly, he explains that the company is seeing increased traction among low-end Android devices. That pattern is particularly noticeable in Africa — and among biNu users in Ethiopia, for one market — but it is evident of a wider trend that is taking hold in other developing markets too.
There’s even growth among Android users in first world markets like the US, although Lentell admits that comes “from a very small base” which has provided “great feedback”. These signs have prompted biNu increase its focus on the Android experience, which it is trying to make slicker and smoother to help gain a foothold in this segment of phone owners.
The biNu global strategy remains focused on building its service off its own back, and that is primarily through word of mouth, using viral hooks in the service.
Last year, Lentell told TNW that biNu was engaged in early-stage discussions with operators. There’s no update on that and he reiterates his belief that it is better for the service to grow independently, rather than taking the “dangling carrot” of potential new users via operator partnerships. Nonetheless, the startup has hired experienced Africa telecom exec Jeremy George to explore opportunities within the continent.
“We’re always interested in engaging with operators, but we want to build our market share independently because it helps validate what we’re doing,” Lentell says. “[With George on board] we are looking to at least have discussions with operators, and talk about what value we might bring to a partnership.”
One area of cooperation that biNu is actively exploring is music. The company recently introduced a music store for users in Nigeria and it is looking into opportunities in that space in other markets.
Headline image via Philippe Desmazes / Getty Images, other images via biNu